Digital Menu Boards: Moving the Needle on Food

Digital Menu Boards: Moving the Needle on Food
Service Cost Reduction & Revenue Improvement.
By Lyle Bunn
Sept. 2012
As food services providers examine the use of electronic flat panels to upgrade
the static signs that have been an order counter mainstay since time began, they
are looking to maximize their possible, and in many situations their intended
investment in this new approach.
The benefits appear immediate and obvious, and even in the simplest use of
Digital Menu Boards these are clear. But this switch-out offers greater benefits in
revenue activation, customer engagement and revisit frequency.
Digital Menu Boards (DMB) present menu and promotion related content in text,
mouth-watering photos and video from a centrally-controlled location or through
permissioned input from a regional or restaurant level.
The high costs and logistics related to menu changes are significantly reduced
resulting in cost savings and better control of brand communications. Messaging
can be easily customized to restaurant locations including products offered,
pricing as well as the customer language and pallet. “Spicy” to the mid-west
consumer for example may not be spicy or “hot” to the southern location patron.
Current DMB users are benefiting from cost-effective “day-parting” in changing
menus at meal times and even micro day-parting to better promote products
between major meals or visit segments such as mid morning and afternoon and
after evenings. 2-3 day-parts are common with 6-7 often being applied.
Messaging in one day-part can easily encourage visit at the other day-parts and
other revenue generators such as gift cards, catering and “party pick-up.”
DMB and digital promotion boards can illustrate involvement by the location in
the community with information about sponsorship, local fund-raising activities
and acknowledge staff. Job applications can be increased as required.
As the requirement to display caloric, nutritional or other information (i.e. allergy
alerts or food ingredients) increases, DMB enable display of this information
while serving the product promotion needs of the chain and its franchisee.
Beyond the cost savings, dynamic flat panels modernize the environment,
increase their attractiveness as a “destination” by groups and preferred
customers, and offer the ability to test new ways of messaging that can further
maximize promotional value. - Digital Media Advisor
Great value in “moving the needle” comes when the DMB is used as a tool for
merchandising, promotion and ambiance.
The Tim Horton chain of coffee shop, pastry, soup and sandwich locations is
moving to a complete DMB after realizing significant benefits from a single panel
in the middle in static board that sought to upsell and increase visit frequency.
The Playloop comprised of 5-10 messages corresponded in length to the one
minute or so order line wait period. “Tim’s” has successfully introduced new
menu items and accelerated these revenues as has McDonald’s in their
introduction of the McCafe beverage line.
Others are enjoying extraordinary value through their innovative use of the
medium and other food services providers including quick-serve, fast casual and
cafeteria are moving forward in their use of this proven medium for the cost
savings, greater revenues, reduced perceived wait times, flexibility and ambiance
offered by electronic digital displays.
They realize that consumer are seeing these displays in many other locations
including stores, transit, workplace, schools and competitor locations and are
actively pursuing dynamic media as a display option.
As they move forward, they are realizing that a suitable technology infrastructure
including the flat panel, media player, connectivity and Content Management
Software and other elements must serve their immediate needs while also being
“future-proofed” to assure ongoing value as the way in which they use this
powerful media evolves.
As large food services providers seek to establish a corporate approach, often
replacing or trying to leverage initiatives that have been undertaken by operating
managers or franchisees, there are particular challenges. Nobody wants to lose
the value from past investment, yet want to take advantage of improved
approaches that could be available. Independent, external counsel can help in
plans to define the optimal technology, re-purpose existing infrastructure and
define the best approaches to achieving goals at multiple organizational levels.
Following 5 tips will help food service providers to minimize the time and
investment needed to implement and use the medium while assuring maximum
return over time.
1. Focus on upsell, cross-sell and revisits. All elements of the dynamic
signage must focus on achieving the fundamental goal of merchandising and
promotion for revenue achievement. While compliance to regulations (such as
posting nutritional/caloric information) and other benefits can be realized, the use
and optimization of the medium must be on maximizing the customers’ intention
of spending, eating and enjoying – to the benefit of the establishment as well. - Digital Media Advisor
2. Involve the Team and optimize. Customer facing dynamic signage effects all
elements of the business including marketing, store operations, customer
experience, purchasing, information technology, human resources, venue design
and other operations as well as franchisees, suppliers, partners and others. Each
part of the organization will have its unique input to making the best use of the
new signage. Under strong project leadership, inputs should be welcomed on an
ongoing basis so as to optimize the value and benefits, while assuring that the
dynamic signage fits within an overview intention of customer experience while
maximizing revenues.
Stakeholders should provide performance indicators based on their area of
greatest need and concern, and based on these can provide useful analytics and
metrics about the signage performance along with possible ways of improving
the benefits received.
3. Software makes in-store media happen. More than 250 different Content
Management Software systems exist, each offering different benefits and
approaches but these generally fit into 2 major categories. Some systems simply
publish images in the way that powerpoint can present slides on a timer. When
selecting software, assure that maximum flexibility and capability is available in
order to assure that ongoing operation costs are minimized and the software will
not limit the way that sign can provide value.
Many assessment criteria can apply to software selection, and these are
important inputs to the selection decision.
4. Commercial versus Consumer or “Pro-sumer” grades of technologies.
Digital signage operation in a food service facility can be very demanding due to
long hours of daily use, heat, and airborne particles. Technology elements such
as the media player and display need to be able to withstand long “duty cycles”
of flawless operation in presenting the content that will deliver business value. In
doing so, the “total cost of ownership” will consider warranty and replacement,
redundancy and the ability to monitor and calibrate signage performance.
5. Start how you plan to finish. While starting with even a single flat panel is
useful to working through content approaches, integration into the environment
and assessing impact, the project should been planned with the ability to phasein new elements. Defining the likely future usage scenario assures that the initial
investment is best made while providing the ability to scale the project as greater
benefit can be achieved. In starting by identifying possible best uses and
integration with other communications, customer engagement and operational
elements, the initiative can get started while moving continuously to improve the
way that the displays are used and how they achieve intended goals. - Digital Media Advisor
A number of future use scenarios should be considered in the DMB and
promotion board design. Some of these include:
On system message authoring / composition and dynamic content production.
New approaches to display beyond the Digital Menu Board (i.e. at tables).
Integration with data feeds/sources such as weather, notifications, socioeconomic targeting, event calendars, etc.
Integration with Anonymous Viewer Analytics and Sentiment Analysis for the
gathering of consumer insights or dynamic message provisioning.
Integration with cell phones and mobile devices.
More local or regional input or control. (i.e. community support initiatives,
other nearby locations, upcoming promotions).
Changes in the menu presentation approach including better and more
extensive use of motion “visuals” and images and better audience targeting.
More suggestive selling including order combinations.
Use of the DMB and panels for order pick-up notification.
Integration with social media and other “earned” media approaches.
Support for more interaction between patrons and social engagement on
premises. (i.e. gaming, trivia contest, etc.).
Presentation of in-restaurant images of or by patrons. (i.e. a Disney
restaurant adds photos of guests noting their occasion with permission).
Gaining and/or presenting customer feedback.
Food Service and digital messaging technologies are a natural combination, as is
being seen from the explosive growth in the use of this medium.
While even skillful use of the simplest approaches can deliver cost savings and
increased revenue, the greater value of the investment is achieved through
planning at the beginning of the investment process.
More information about this medium is available in the “SPEED” digital signage
training program which has been used by over 2500 professionals and is
available online at The “desktop” course addresses how to plan,
source, operate and benefit from the medium.
About the author: Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon) is considered North America’s “number 1”
dynamic signage industry consultants. He has assisted hundreds of organizations in
their project planning and optimization, has trained several thousands professionals
and published over 200 articles and whitepapers related to the medium over his 10
years in the industry. See for more resources or contact - Digital Media Advisor